Following the encounter of eight suspected SIMI terrorists, who had escaped from Bhopal Central Jail on Monday, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan should really pause for a moment and introspect.
He must seriously ponder over why, under his administration, the biggest Indian state has seen a sharp decline in all aspects of policing – be it law and order, intelligence gathering or jail administration.
While the police force does have some brave and committed men, like Head Constable Ramashankar Yadav, who laid down his life in the line of duty while trying to stop the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists from fleeing, the incident does pose some serious questions.
What kind of police force did Yadav serve, where no backup was available to him? Why did no one come to his rescue? And why were no alarms raised to thwart the jailbreak attempt? It seems that men like Yadav are just exceptions in an otherwise inefficient MP police force.
In his capacity as chief minister, Shivraj has done well on his moral and official duty to visit the martyred head constable's home, pay his condolences, attend the last rites, offer ex-gratia and additionally sanction money for his daughter's upcoming wedding.
He is also well within his right to blast his political rivals for politicising the ‘encounter’. He said that the political rivals raising questions over the encounter, couldn’t see the head constable’s supreme sacrifice.
"They could have spared two words for this martyr and shed a few tears over his martyrdom, which could have proved their compassion” Shivraj was reported as saying.
While dismissing the opposition’s charges against his government, he said: “The hardcore criminals have been eliminated. Who knows what kind of violence they could have unlashed if they managed to escape.”
On the other hand, Congress general secretary and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh had given an entirely different twist to the jailbreak episode. He questioned that how was it possible that only Muslim SIMI operatives managed to escape from the jail and not the Hindu ones. Again, it was alright for Shivraj to respond to that charge, as Digvijay's commentary seemed to be angled for obvious political motives.
But the big question that remains is that why did Shivraj not weigh the situation and collect all the facts before going to the public with his tall claims about the ‘encounter’. Why did he compliment an incompetent police force for killing the eight SIMI terror operatives on a hill top, where they were surrounded from all sides with negligible chances of escape?
Though you cannot second guess the bravery and commitment of constable Yadav – whose two sons serve in the army and daughter was to be married in five weeks – the problem arose when Shivraj mixed the two narratives. Yadav's death and the contradictory arguments made by senior police officers about the encounter, in a bid to cover up the cold-blooded killing of the SIMI operatives, are two very distinct equations.
Instead of trying to mislead the public by mixing the two narratives, here is something that should’ve concerned Shivraj more:
The Bhopal Central Jail was the first in India to get an ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) 9001-2000 certificate in 2004 for its better amenities for inmates, about a year before Shivraj assumed office. But apart from the amenities, jails are as much about security. The ease with which the SIMI operatives fled reflects on the poor safety measures employed by the administration.
Security loopholes like the fact that all terror operatives were lodged in one jail; the CCTV cameras were not working; dining utensils issued were easily converted into knives; a long drawn jailbreak plan went unchecked; keys were made inside or smuggled from outside; the high walls were easily scalable; guards were sleeping on duty; the administration did not take any lessons from the Khandwa jail break by members of the same group; officers were busy lighting lamps and fire crackers while the criminals escaped, are all indicative of corrupt and inefficient jail management by the civil and police officials. In that regard, it is truly ironic that the jail’s website is full of ISO certifications and boasts of its safety records.
The manner in which hundreds of policemen conducted the hunt for the escaped activists, and how the supposed ‘encounter’ took place, reveals a saga of incompetence, inefficiency and even foolishness.
It clearly indicates that the MP police has never really engaged in a real encounter situation, at least lately. The chief minister and his government will have a difficult time in explaining the conduct of the state police force. From the videos of the encounter that have surfaced since then, it looks like the operation was conducted not by uniformed and trained police officers, but by a lynch mob out to kill a hated target.
The scenes emanating from the video, of policemen shooting with crude 303 rifles; fellow colleagues recording videos on their phones; conversing over unsecured wireless sets; some policemen firing from long distance; some shooting at dead bodies, all point towards the fact that the encounter was in all likelihood fake and foolish.
From the audio heard in these videos, it was clear that there was no chain of command. Everyone was shouting over each other and perhaps some villagers had also joined in as cheer leaders for the armed policemen.
How is this effective policing? Shivraj will have to introspect and come up with an answer.